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Transportation is Oakland’s key environmental opportunity

This afternoon the Climate Action Coalition, made up of social-justice and transit advocacy organizations, will rally before a City Council meeting on the Energy and Climate Action Plan (ECAP). Their demand? Improve Oakland’s environment while creating opportunities for job growth and public health. Transportation is the source of two-thirds of Oakland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and transportation and land-use changes can allow the city’s economy to grow while decreasing Oakland’s global warming contributions. This requires not just a better land-use and transportation policy, but the institutional structures needed to implement forward-thinking transportation improvements.

As V Smoothe pointed out earlier today, there’s no shortage of policies about improved transportation and land use, from the General Plan to various downtown and transit-first plans. However, the Council does not stand up for those plans when confronted with a dozen upset NIMBYs or business owners – from downtown zoning to development in Temescal to parking issues, the Council almost always backs off of its stated commitments to the environment in deference to Oakland’s ingrained car-first suburban mentality. This attitude extends to City Planning and Redevelopment staff, who are obsessed with building parking while limiting high-rise development. While City planners trudge out proposal after proposal designed to set land-use backwards, City transportation planners are divided among different departments and shockingly understaffed, City needs come last regionally, and important transportation decisions are made without any public review. But the ECAP offers the opportunity to institutionalize better transportation and more progressive land-use planning.

Radical change is necessary. Oakland simply cannot continue down the current path of transportation planning. From city planners using community gardens as a flimsy cover for a pro-parking lot agenda to Building Services seizing Measure DD’s widened sidewalks to provide parking for the Lake Chalet, Oakland’s transportation decision-making is a disaster apparent to even the most unconcerned citizen. Everyone who goes out on the town in Uptown has to navigate past Pican’s rude fence (approved administratively by City Planning), deal with an utter lack of parking or transit signage (thanks to the Redevelopment Agency), and step gingerly over rotting sidewalks while crossing potholed streets devoid of bike lanes, during a traffic signal that appears to be timed to kill pedestrians. And this is our showcase downtown district?

A reading of data behind the Energy and Climate Action Plan puts the focus clearly on transportation. With few clear policy demands beyond setting aggressive goals, the Climate Action Coalition is calling for a Transportation Commission to ensure action on these important issues. With the overwhelming majority of our emissions coming from cars, even small changes to mode-share will make huge differences in emissions. This requires not just a commitment, but real follow-through, and institutional changes to allow public and consistent transportation decision-making. A Transportation Commission with real authority would go a long way, but leadership is necessary too. We need elected leadership on land-use so that developers aren’t forced out of our transit corridors by Oakland’s band of increasingly aggressive NIMBYs, we need a unified (and informed) voice on regional transportation funding boards, and we need articulate and risk-taking leaders who are willing to get yelled at in order to create a better future for Oakland. Can Oakland have the leadership we need in order to create a greener, healthier, and more prosperous city? Collectively, that’s our decision.

Posted in oakland, transportation, zoning.